A Williams College Education Doesn’t Require Random Acts of Racist Speech – Sam Crane, W. Van Alan Clark ’41 Third Century Professor in the Social Sciences


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on the author’s blog, Useless Tree, and has been re-published here with the author’s approval.

I am a teacher. Every day I make decisions about what my students read and write, and what kinds of speech are intellectually meaningful in our classroom discussions. Within the limits of my pedagogical goals, I encourage them to freely explore arguments, push and pull ideas in unexpected directions, make mistakes. When it works well, it’s like John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things: marvelous innovation within the limits of the melodic structure. … Read more

Uncomfortable Posting – Steven Miller, Associate Professor Of Mathematics


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on EphBlog. Here is a link to the original post, where there are responses to the post in the comments section below: http://ephblog.com/2015/10/30/uncomfortable-posting/

Greetings. I’m the faculty president of the Williams’ chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society. As there has been a lot of discussion about speakers invited to campus by Uncomfortable Learning, I wanted to briefly post why PBK has decided to co-sponsor their next speakers.

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Conservative Privilege on Campus – Sam Crane, W. Van Alan Clark ’41 Third Century Professor in the Social Sciences


The “Uncomfortable Learning” brouhaha has subjected Williams College to a torrent of national media criticism. Most notably, conservative news outlets have shouted charges of censorship and liberal intolerance and general decline of Western civilization. Lost in the right-wing screaming match are the specific dynamics of this case, especially the fact the College administration itself, and the faculty, had nothing whatsoever to do with this particular disinvitation. Such evidence is irrelevant, however, to the pre-determined narratives of conservative critics of academia. … Read more

End of the Year Committee Reports, 1849 – Colin Adams, Thomas T. Read Professor of Mathematics


The Faculty Steering Committee

This year, the Steering Committee agonized over the question of whether the College should strive to become a first rank research university, or whether it should continue to remain a college with a single faculty member, a single student and a single classroom consisting of one log. Although no conclusion has been reached, Mark Hopkins suggested that with God’s grace, we will find a way out of this logjam. Perhaps some other alternative will present itself, and we will discover the true nature of Williams College. … Read more

The Liberal Arts in the Anthropocene – Jessica Fisher, Assistant Professor of English

I was asked to write something about the liberal arts, to join a conversation that was started because  it seems we lack a shared sense here at the college of what it means to be where we are, and to devote ourselves to the work we are doing together. My colleagues Peter Low and Lee Park have written already in the Record about the trends at Williams that make this inquiry pressing, and have done a beautiful job of historicizing the various ways that the liberal arts have been thought—as, among other things, an ethics, a commitment to radical forms of freedom. I would like to write with similar clarity, but have been struggling with knowing what I can say. It’s clear enough that the crisis in the liberal arts is tied to the rise of neoliberalism and an increasingly rapacious capitalism that seeks to instrumentalize and monetize every gesture, every thought, and every impulse we have as human beings. It seems to me that one of the most important questions is therefore what the role of the liberal arts education might be in resisting its seemingly unstoppable ascent, creating a space where  we imagine ourselves for once as neither consumers nor products. As a nonprofit institution, the college has the incredible privilege of being responsible to the public good, rather than to the profit of private shareholders. The idealism with which I approach the question of our purpose seems to me therefore a necessary aspect of the liberal arts education: at best, I think, the college offers us a unique opportunity to look deeply, in community, across disciplines, at what we face.

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The Goal of a Liberal Arts Education – Steve Gerrard, Professor of Philosophy

The following is adapted from a faculty meeting last year. The Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) is sponsoring a year-long initiative called “Why Liberal Arts?” Please check out their tumblr at williamswhyliberalarts.tumblr.com.

I believe that the goal of a liberal arts education is to prepare our students to be thriving citizens in a pluralistic democracy. Given that I believe in pluralistic democracy, I don’t believe that everyone will or should have the same goal. But I do hope that many of you will share this goal.

There are four chief ways our curriculum can serve to prepare our students to be such citizens:

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A Liberal Arts Education: The Moment of Truth – Jeff Israel, Professor of Religion

What is the “moment of truth” for a liberal arts education? Is it when you open the envelope that tells you if you’ve been admitted to graduate school? Is it after you’ve interviewed for your first job or internship out of college, waited anxiously, and the phone rings with the final decision? Are these the moments that determine whether or not your liberal arts education has proven worthwhile? These are important moments, to be sure, but in my view they are not an appropriate measure for the value of a liberal arts education.

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What are we doing here? – Peter Low, Chair of CEP, Professor of Art; Lee Park, Past Chair of CEP, Associate Dean of Faculty, Professor of Chemistry; et al.

That question isn’t as cheeky as it sounds, based on conversations last year in the Committee on Educational Policy.

The group considered how students here move through the curriculum. We gathered data on enrollments across academic divisions, on majors and double majors, and on other relevant student choices. We also elicited student and faculty opinions on curricular matters through a number of surveys and public discussions. We’d like to highlight some of our findings as a starting point for a broader conversation.

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Williams: Inclusive or Exclusive? – Frank Morgan, Atwell Professor of Mathematics

Which quote embodies the best of Williams?

1. “We are so fortunate and proud to be part of this exceptional group of brilliant and interesting faculty and students, the likes of which you’ll find nowhere else.”

2. “As a result of what we have been lucky enough to discover here, we are humbly eager to expand our boundaries and to respect, learn from, and share with everyone.” … Read more

Using Words – Professor Victor E. Hill IV, Thomas T. Read Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus


[Humpty Dumpty said,] “There’s glory for you!”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpy smiled contemptuously.  “Of course you don’t – till I tell you.  I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’ ” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”[1] … Read more